MONTE DUTTON - – HOW THE ROAD GOT MORE FRIENDLY
Up this hill and down / And up this hill again / It’s a mighty, mighty long road / What ain’t got no end.
It makes no sense that a stock car race, at a track surrounded by vineyards, located across a huge bay named for San Francisco on the other end, would evoke in me the lyrics of an ancient country song. It was written by Richard D. Staedter back in God knows when. I expect I first heard it sung by the Wilburn Brothers, Teddy and Doyle. Staedter also wrote another hit of theirs, “It’s Another World.”
Faron Young sang “Wine Me Up,” but I don’t think he and Billy Deaton wrote it with Wine Country in mind.
What is the track named now? Sonoma Raceway. It was Sears Point when I first started going there in the 1990s. Then it was, uh, Infineon Raceway, but the name was finite. It’s 1.99 miles, which I always considered a subtle slap at Bruton Smith, who wanted it to be 2.0 when he reconfigured it and cut out the most difficult part of the course.
Tell Bruton we measured it, and it came up 1.99. Ah-ha-ha-ha!
The point I’m getting at is that road races have gotten more exciting because they have gotten easier. All the drivers are competent. There are no Buddy Bakers left.
Buddy was a great driver on ovals. He was also one of my favorite people. He was the most self-deprecating man I’ve ever known. Certainly no race driver has ever been more adept at poking fun at himself. He famously said that he had been racing five years at Riverside (which is no more) before he knew the track was paved. In non-famous times, he even said it to me a few times.
The so-called “road-course ringers” are just as adept. They don’t have much of an advantage anymore because, nowadays, drivers shift without using a clutch. Gone are the days when TV networks placed cameras in Ricky Rudd’s floorboard to show his feet playing Fred Astaire with the three pedals.
Those are clutch, brake, accelerator if you’re driving an automatic at home.
I wish Buddy had gotten to try it.
The races are close and exciting because everyone goes “up this hill and down” pretty smoothly. Lots of thrills and chills occur because some drivers make poor judgments, stick their noses where they don’t belong and generally drive like maniacs, and it is great fun to watch.